The sad case of Tim Hunt

In a week’s time this event will be lost in the collective memory of the internet but we need to learn from this sort of thing so here’s my tup’penny’s worth.

The original version of this post lies in the draft folder and it is likely to stay there the only thing I will draw from that is that what Tim Hunt said only reflects badly on him and the RS was right to distance themselves from his comment because the RS has guidelines that their fellows should abide by.

However, I feel some what melancholy over the result of the trial by public opinion.

Again, what Sir Tim said was in poor taste in context (so-called joking comments can still be made in poor taste. Would you do a stand up set satirising the IRA in Ulster for goodness sake?!) and he claims he spoke from personal experience but regardless the punishment should fit the crime.

Firstly, he felt forced to resign his position as Emeritus Professor, a move that his institute now denies except that in Tim’s words he was told he should step down and if he did it would be done discreetly. It was not handled discreetly perhaps leading to questions over who told him he should step down and why they did so. Tim and his wife have felt “hung out to dry” by the situation which will be particularly damaging for his wife’s continued employment at the University. No one wants to be known at their place of work as “the spouse of that sexist scientist”. Retribution never just effects the perpetrator.

I’m a believer in reconciliation… the problem is Sir Tim did fumble his statement of apology. But let’s be honest, if this had been your grandfather or one of your parent’s older sibling who had said what Sir time said what would be your reaction? Why? Is it because we accept that people who grew up before us were raised in a different society than the one we live in? Is it because we accept that their experiences are different to ours? It’s hard to “imagine people complexly” (John Green, c. 2010) especially when we don’t know them personally, but it’s something I try to do, especially when things in the media get presented as black and white.

For my part I engaged in the #TimHunt #DistractinglySexy debates on twitter and my tweets are there for all to see. The latter, the joking response to Sir Tim’s comment, actually has become a positive thing in my eyes. To me, the tag has become a tongue-in-cheek way of saying “we’re scientists trying to get on with the science” which is probably what Sir Tim wants.

It’s just his ideas about that won’t necessarily be the ones that scientists today use to make labs a great place to work in for everyone.

 And now an amusing, semi-relevant image to leaven this post: